I think we’ve been dealing with the toddler equivalent of
the cry-it-out dilemma. Bee has never been the greatest sleeper. He didn’t
start sleeping through the night until well past a year old, and he still wakes
up crying in the middle of the night at least a couple of times a week. When we
converted his crib into a toddler bed a few of weeks ago the transition went
surprisingly well, except that he started waking up early again and yelling our names at the crack of dawn. Anywhere from 30-45 minutes before his special monkey clock, MoMo, opened
its eyes – which is Bee’s sign that it is okay to get up – we would hear Bee whimpering and fussing
in his room, “Mommaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Daddyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Come heeeeeeeeeeeeere!”
Each time I’d lay in bed debating: Do I go in and tell him
it’s not time to get up yet? He knows to wait for his clock, so if I go in, am I reinforcing him for calling for
us so early? If I don’t go in, am I being unresponsive or neglectful? Will he
wonder Why isn’t Momma coming? See what I mean? It’s the exact debate that went on in my
head months ago when we were trying to “sleep train”!
Then a week or so ago I heard him calling, “Momma! My foot
is stuck! Momma!” So of course I rushed in, only to find that little booger’s foot was not stuck! He was totally FAKING! Clearly, he was playing me now!
And so, Bee’s very first sticker chart was born. All of the
stern reminders and the desperate pleas that Momma and Daddy need sleep so that we
aren’t grumpy were falling on deaf ears, which makes sense – he’s two and in the
moment he wants what he wants, which is us.
But since he’s smart enough to fake me out, I hoped he might just be motivated by a little positive reinforcement for staying quietly in bed.
The plan is super-simple: If Bee waits quietly until his monkey clock opens its eyes in the morning, he gets to pick out a sticker to put on
his chart. If he starts yelling before MoMo is awake, no sticker. (Specific expectations and immediate reinforcement – behavior chart essentials!) We hung
the chart on the back of his bedroom door, where he can see it from his bed,
and found a sheet of holiday stickers.
Bee was so excited
Every morning he proudly announces
to everyone in the family, “I did a good job!” It has made a huge
difference and I love that we’ve shifted from what was almost a power struggle
to motivating him in a positive way that he feels really good about. It has even helped a little bit with bedtime. One night when he was giving me a hard time about saying goodnight, I
reminded him he needed to go to sleep so he could get his sticker in the morning and he suddenly couldn’t wait to get tucked in!
Bee filled up his chart in 5 days straight, so Saturday afternoon I
took him to the Dollar Store where he picked out a stuffed alligator as his reward. I wonder if just the stickers would have been
enough reinforcement, but I figured a little extra motivation wouldn’t hurt and
since that holy-grail-of-parenthood sleep is involved, we were desperate for
As a surprising side effect of this, Bee is actually sleeping
better through the night. He tends to wake up crying at least once or twice a
week, usually just needing a quick back rub to settle back down, and we’ve
chalked it up to bad dreams or some similarly uncontrollable sleep issue. I
wasn’t expecting the sticker chart to impact those middle-of-the-night wakings
at all, but it has! Woo-hoo!
Now if only that darn owl who likes to sit on our roof at 2
a.m. and hoot until we wake up liked stickers, we’d be all set!
I’d love to hear what toddler sleep issues you’ve had and how you’ve handled them!